Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
The idea of personal growth or personal development has become a massive industry where people move from one concept, book or idea to the next, perhaps inspired and motivated, but without actually addressing what it is that’s creating this endless search for happiness, calm, creativity, clarity, or even perfection in their lives.
I think this idea is perhaps best reflected by the blue sky analogy, where no matter how cloudy the sky becomes, there is always blue sky on the other side — in the same way that no matter how busy the mind appears, there is always an underlying sense of stillness if we can just stop for long enough for it to appear. But I think it’s also always a bit like running around in a kitchen banging pots and pans wildly, screaming out “why can’t I find any peace and quiet in here?”
The magic happens when we stop…when we stop reading, when we stop searching, when we stop trying to be a better, nicer, happier, calmer person and just allow the mind to express itself exactly as it is. Because underneath all the crazy thoughts and challenging feelings is that blue sky. And if we can set up a framework where that can be revealed safely, and with restraint, then thoughts and feelings can once again flow as they were meant to.
Obviously this has to be balanced with an intellectual approach of improvement, but how can the intellect, the rational, thinking mind, which causes us so much stress and so many problems, also be the answer to those problems. It’s like the blind leading the blind. So it’s only by addressing, approaching or accessing the broader, innate essence of mind (otherwise known as awareness) that we can really start to make sense of it all.
It’s like taking this huge step back in the mind, where the perspective is transformed and where the thoughts and feelings are no longer ‘oneself.’ Instead they are something that are watched, listened to, engaged with when useful and let go of when destructive. The result is that rather than ‘instinctively reacting’ to a thought, there is room for a ‘skillful response.’ So there is no longer the strong identification with the thought and feeling, which means rather than “I’m angry” it changes to “there’s anger.” It is hard not to overstate the impact this subtle shift can have on somebody’s experience of every single aspect of life.
And I guess this is the point…personal growth happens in the moment. It’s not a fancy idea or a complicated concept which lies somewhere in the future if only we can work out how to get there. Instead it’s the direct experience of life, as it happens, in this very moment — in other words, through meditation through being mindful. Free from judgment and coming from a place of spacious clarity, life is experienced ‘as it is’, right now. This is what it means to grow personally.
When we’re in touch with that place within ourselves, when we can begin to apply this quality of awareness to every single aspect of our lives — especially our relationships with others (be that personal or professional) then the world begins to look very different. There is a sense of underlying contentment and unshakable confidence which enables us to be happy and engaged in whatever we’re doing.
And that’s when we become curious, interested, productive and efficient human beings, right? It’s not about how we apply the next 10 step plan to success, but instead how we relate to the here and now. The future grows out of the present, so it’s to the present that we need to look first. Of course, it’s fine to have dreams and to plan ahead, but if we can focus on the present moment a little more, then as a general rule the future will take care of itself.
Growth by nature is an evolving process. It is not something static that we can ‘master’ once and for all. Yet this is an illusion so often perpetuated by the self-help industry. Life is constantly changing, constantly evolving, and so we need to learn how to ‘witness’ this change, to move skilfully with it, rather be ‘subject’ to the roller-coaster ride that change can sometimes bring about.
Watching the mind, knowing the mind, allows this experience of impermanence and evolution to permeate every aspect of our being. It allows us to move, intuitively from one moment to the next. It allows us to let go of the burden of the past and expectation of the future to reveal a limitless place of creativity and potential. It is from this place that great ideas arise, ideas which have the potential to transform the world in which we live.
Although life may be limited in years, our potential for growth, change and understanding is endless. But that potential can only be fulfilled when we know how to be still, when we know how to let go of all the things we think we know and think we ought to know, and simply rest the mind in a place of knowing, unadulterated awareness, free from judgement or criticism, and open to every possibility there has always been or ever could be.